a. Radio communications are a critical link in the ATC system. The
link can be a strong bond between pilot and controller or it can be broken with surprising
speed and disastrous results. Discussion herein provides basic procedures for new pilots
and also highlights safe operating concepts for all pilots.
b. The single, most important thought in pilot-controller
communications is understanding. It is essential, therefore, that pilots acknowledge each
radio communication with ATC by using the appropriate aircraft call sign. Brevity is
important, and contacts should be kept as brief as possible, but controllers must know
what you want to do before they can properly carry out their control duties. And you, the
pilot, must know exactly what the controller wants you to do. Since concise phraseology
may not always be adequate, use whatever words are necessary to get your message across.
Pilots are to maintain vigilance in monitoring air traffic control radio communications
frequencies for potential traffic conflicts with their aircraft especially when operating
on an active runway and/or when conducting a final approach to landing.
c. All pilots will find the Pilot/Controller Glossary very helpful
in learning what certain words or phrases mean. Good phraseology enhances safety and is
the mark of a professional pilot. Jargon, chatter, and "CB" slang have no place
in ATC communications. The Pilot/Controller Glossary is
the same glossary used in FAA Order 7110.65, Air Traffic
Control. We recommend that it be studied and reviewed from time to time to sharpen
your communication skills.
4-2-2. Radio Technique
a. Listen before you transmit. Many times you can get the
information you want through ATIS or by monitoring the frequency. Except for a few
situations where some frequency overlap occurs, if you hear someone else talking, the
keying of your transmitter will be futile and you will probably jam their receivers
causing them to repeat their call. If you have just changed frequencies, pause, listen,
and make sure the frequency is clear.
b. Think before keying your transmitter. Know what you want to say
and if it is lengthy; e.g., a flight plan or IFR position report, jot it down.
c. The microphone should be very close to your lips and after
pressing the mike button, a slight pause may be necessary to be sure the first word is
transmitted. Speak in a normal, conversational tone.
d. When you release the button, wait a few seconds before calling
again. The controller or FSS specialist may be jotting down your number, looking for your
flight plan, transmitting on a different frequency, or selecting the transmitter for your
e. Be alert to the sounds or the lack of sounds in your
receiver. Check your volume, recheck your frequency, and make sure that your microphone
is not stuck in the transmit position. Frequency blockage can, and has, occurred for
extended periods of time due to unintentional transmitter operation. This type of
interference is commonly referred to as a "stuck mike," and controllers may
refer to it in this manner when attempting to assign an alternate frequency. If the
assigned frequency is completely blocked by this type of interference, use the procedures
described for en route IFR radio frequency outage to establish or reestablish
communications with ATC.
f. Be sure that you are within the performance range of your radio
equipment and the ground station equipment. Remote radio sites do not always transmit and
receive on all of a facility's available frequencies, particularly with regard to VOR
sites where you can hear but not reach a ground station's receiver. Remember that higher
altitudes increase the range of VHF "line of sight" communications.
4-2-3. Contact Procedures
a. Initial Contact.
1. The terms initial contact or initial callup means
the first radio call you make to a given facility or the first call to a different
controller or FSS specialist within a facility. Use the following format:
(a) Name of the facility being called;
(b) Your full aircraft identification as filed in the flight
plan or as discussed in paragraph 4-2-4, Aircraft Call
(c) When operating on an airport surface, state your position.
(d) The type of message to follow or your request if it is short;
(e) The word "Over" if required.
1. "New York Radio, Mooney Three One One Echo."
2. "Columbia Ground, Cessna Three One Six Zero Foxtrot, south ramp,
3. "Miami Center, Baron Five Six Three Hotel, request V-F-R traffic
2. Many FSSs are equipped with Remote Communications Outlets
(RCOs) and can transmit on the same frequency at more than one location. The frequencies
available at specific locations are indicated on charts above FSS communications boxes. To
enable the specialist to utilize the correct transmitter, advise the location and the
frequency on which you expect a reply.
St. Louis FSS can transmit on frequency 122.3 at either Farmington, Missouri, or Decatur,
Illinois, if you are in the vicinity of Decatur, your callup should be "Saint Louis
radio, Piper Six Niner Six Yankee, receiving Decatur One Two Two Point Three."
3. If radio reception is reasonably assured, inclusion of your
request, your position or altitude, and the phrase "(ATIS) Information Charlie
received" in the initial contact helps decrease radio frequency congestion. Use
discretion; do not overload the controller with information unneeded or superfluous. If
you do not get a response from the ground station, recheck your radios or use another
transmitter, but keep the next contact short.
"Atlanta Center, Duke Four One Romeo, request V-F-R traffic advisories, Twenty
Northwest Rome, seven thousand five hundred, over."
b. Initial Contact When Your Transmitting and Receiving Frequencies are
1. If you are attempting to establish contact with a ground station
and you are receiving on a different frequency than that transmitted, indicate the VOR
name or the frequency on which you expect a reply. Most FSSs and control facilities can
transmit on several VOR stations in the area. Use the appropriate FSS call sign as
indicated on charts.
New York FSS transmits on the Kennedy, the Hampton, and the Calverton
VORTACs. If you are
in the Calverton area, your callup should be "New York radio, Cessna Three One Six
Zero Foxtrot, receiving Calverton V-O-R, over."
2. If the chart indicates FSS frequencies above the VORTAC or in
the FSS communications boxes, transmit or receive on those frequencies nearest your
3. When unable to establish contact and you wish to call any
ground station, use the phrase "ANY RADIO (tower) (station), GIVE CESSNA THREE ONE
SIX ZERO FOXTROT A CALL ON (frequency) OR (V-O-R)." If an emergency exists or you
need assistance, so state.
c. Subsequent Contacts and Responses to Callup from a Ground Facility.
Use the same format as used for the initial contact except you should
state your message or request with the callup in one transmission. The ground station name
and the word "Over" may be omitted if the message requires an obvious reply and
there is no possibility for misunderstandings. You should acknowledge all callups or
clearances unless the controller or FSS specialist advises otherwise. There are some
occasions when controllers must issue time-critical instructions to other aircraft, and
they may be in a position to observe your response, either visually or on radar. If the
situation demands your response, take appropriate action or immediately advise the
facility of any problem. Acknowledge with your aircraft identification, either at the
beginning or at the end of your transmission, and one of the words "Wilco,"
"Roger," "Affirmative," "Negative," or other appropriate
remarks; e.g., "PIPER TWO ONE FOUR LIMA, ROGER." If you have been receiving
services; e.g., VFR traffic advisories and you are leaving the area or changing
frequencies, advise the ATC facility and terminate contact.
d. Acknowledgement of Frequency Changes.
1. When advised by ATC to change frequencies, acknowledge the
instruction. If you select the new frequency without an acknowledgement, the controller's
workload is increased because there is no way of knowing whether you received the
instruction or have had radio communications failure.
2. At times, a controller/specialist may be working a sector with
multiple frequency assignments. In order to eliminate unnecessary verbiage and to free the
controller/specialist for higher priority transmissions, the controller/specialist may
request the pilot "(Identification), change to my frequency 123.4." This phrase
should alert the pilot that the controller/specialist is only changing frequencies, not
controller/specialist, and that initial callup phraseology may be abbreviated.
"United Two Twenty-Two on one two three point four" or
"one two three point
four, United Two Twenty-Two."
e. Compliance with Frequency Changes.
When instructed by ATC to change frequencies, select the new frequency as
soon as possible unless instructed to make the change at a specific time, fix, or
altitude. A delay in making the change could result in an untimely receipt of important
information. If you are instructed to make the frequency change at a specific time, fix,
or altitude, monitor the frequency you are on until reaching the specified time, fix, or
altitudes unless instructed otherwise by ATC.
AIM, ARTCC Communications, Paragraph 5-3-1.
4-2-4. Aircraft Call Signs
a. Precautions in the Use of Call Signs.
1. Improper use of call signs can result in pilots executing a
clearance intended for another aircraft. Call signs should never be abbreviated on an
initial contact or at any time when other aircraft call signs have similar numbers/sounds
or identical letters/number; e.g., Cessna 6132F, Cessna 1622F, Baron 123F, Cherokee
Assume that a controller issues an approach clearance to an aircraft at the bottom of a
holding stack and an aircraft with a similar call sign (at the top of the stack)
acknowledges the clearance with the last two or three numbers of the aircraft's call sign.
If the aircraft at the bottom of the stack did not hear the clearance and intervene,
flight safety would be affected, and there would be no reason for either the controller or
pilot to suspect that anything is wrong. This kind of "human factors" error can
strike swiftly and is extremely difficult to rectify.
2. Pilots, therefore, must be certain that aircraft identification
is complete and clearly identified before taking action on an ATC clearance. ATC
specialists will not abbreviate call signs of air carrier or other civil aircraft having
authorized call signs. ATC specialists may initiate abbreviated call signs of other
aircraft by using the prefix and the last three digits/letters of the aircraft
identification after communications are established. The pilot may use the abbreviated
call sign in subsequent contacts with the ATC specialist. When aware of similar/identical
call signs, ATC specialists will take action to minimize errors by emphasizing certain
numbers/letters, by repeating the entire call sign, by repeating the prefix, or by asking
pilots to use a different call sign temporarily. Pilots should use the phrase "VERIFY
CLEARANCE FOR (your complete call sign)" if doubt exists concerning proper identity.
3. Civil aircraft pilots should state the aircraft type, model or
manufacturer's name, followed by the digits/letters of the registration number. When the
aircraft manufacturer's name or model is stated, the prefix "N" is dropped;
e.g., Aztec Two Four Six Four Alpha.
1. Bonanza Six Five Five Golf.
2. Breezy Six One Three Romeo Experimental (omit "Experimental"
after initial contact).
4. Air Taxi or other commercial operators not having FAA
authorized call signs should prefix their normal identification with the phonetic word
Tango Aztec Two Four Six Four Alpha.
5. Air carriers and commuter air carriers having FAA authorized
call signs should identify themselves by stating the complete call sign (using group form
for the numbers) and the word "heavy" if appropriate.
1. United Twenty-Five Heavy.
2. Midwest Commuter Seven Eleven.
6. Military aircraft use a variety of systems including serial
numbers, word call signs, and combinations of letters/numbers. Examples include Army
Copter 48931; Air Force 61782; REACH 31792; Pat 157;
Air Evac 17652; Navy Golf Alfa Kilo
21; Marine 4 Charlie 36, etc.
b. Air Ambulance Flights.
Because of the priority afforded air ambulance flights in the ATC system,
extreme discretion is necessary when using the term "LIFEGUARD." It is only
intended for those missions of an urgent medical nature and to be utilized only for that
portion of the flight requiring expeditious handling. When requested by the pilot,
necessary notification to expedite ground handling of patients, etc., is provided by ATC;
however, when possible, this information should be passed in advance through
1. Civilian air ambulance flights responding to medical emergencies
(first call to an accident scene, carrying patients, organ donors, organs, or other
urgently needed lifesaving medical material) will be expedited by ATC when necessary. When
expeditious handling is necessary, add the word "LIFEGUARD" in the remarks
section of the flight plan. In radio communications, use the call sign
"LIFEGUARD" followed by the aircraft registration letters/numbers.
2. Similar provisions have been made for the use of "AIR
EVAC" and "MED EVAC" by military air ambulance flights, except that these
military flights will receive priority handling only when specifically requested.
Lifeguard Two Six Four Six.
3. Air carrier and Air Taxi flights responding to medical
emergencies will also be expedited by ATC when necessary. The nature of these medical
emergency flights usually concerns the transportation of urgently needed lifesaving
medical materials or vital organs. IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT THE COMPANY/PILOT DETERMINE, BY
THE NATURE/URGENCY OF THE SPECIFIC MEDICAL CARGO, IF PRIORITY ATC ASSISTANCE IS REQUIRED.
Pilots shall ensure that the word "LIFEGUARD" is included in the remarks section
of the flight plan and use the call sign "LIFEGUARD" followed by the company
name and flight number for all transmissions when expeditious handling is required. It is
important for ATC to be aware of "LIFEGUARD" status, and it is the pilot's
responsibility to ensure that this information is provided to ATC.
Lifeguard Delta Thirty-Seven.
c. Student Pilots Radio Identification.
1. The FAA desires to help student pilots in acquiring sufficient
practical experience in the environment in which they will be required to operate. To
receive additional assistance while operating in areas of concentrated air traffic,
student pilots need only identify themselves as a student pilot during their initial call
to an FAA radio facility.
Dayton tower, this is Fleetwing One Two Three Four, student pilot.
2. This special identification will alert FAA ATC personnel and
enable them to provide student pilots with such extra assistance and consideration as they
may need. It is recommended that student pilots identify themselves as such, on initial
contact with each clearance delivery prior to taxiing, ground control, tower, approach and
departure control frequency, or FSS contact.
4-2-5. Description of Interchange or Leased
a. Controllers issue traffic information based on familiarity with
airline equipment and color/markings. When an air carrier dispatches a flight using
another company's equipment and the pilot does not advise the terminal ATC facility, the
possible confusion in aircraft identification can compromise safety.
b. Pilots flying an "interchange" or "leased"
aircraft not bearing the colors/markings of the company operating the aircraft should
inform the terminal ATC facility on first contact the name of the operating company and
trip number, followed by the company name as displayed on the aircraft, and aircraft type.
Air Cal Three Eleven, United (interchange/lease), Boeing Seven Two Seven.
4-2-6. Ground Station Call Signs
Pilots, when calling a ground station, should begin with the name of the
facility being called followed by the type of the facility being called as indicated in
Calling a Ground Station
Flight Service Station
Flight Service Station (En Route Flight Advisory Service (Weather))
Traffic Control Tower
Delivery Position (IFR)
Control Position in Tower
or Nonradar Approach Control Position
Departure Control Position
Air Route Traffic Control Center
4-2-7. Phonetic Alphabet
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) phonetic alphabet is
used by FAA personnel when communications conditions are such that the information cannot
be readily received without their use. ATC facilities may also request pilots to use
phonetic letter equivalents when aircraft with similar sounding identifications are
receiving communications on the same frequency. Pilots should use the phonetic alphabet
when identifying their aircraft during initial contact with air traffic control
facilities. Additionally, use the phonetic equivalents for single letters and to spell out
groups of letters or difficult words during adverse communications conditions. (See TBL
Phonetic Alphabet/Morse Code
a. Figures indicating hundreds and thousands in round number, as
for ceiling heights, and upper wind levels up to 9,900 shall be spoken in accordance with
1. 500 five hundred
2. 4,500 four thousand five hundred
b. Numbers above 9,900 shall be spoken by separating the digits
preceding the word "thousand."
1. 10,000 one zero thousand
2. 13,500 one three thousand five hundred
c. Transmit airway or jet route numbers as follows.
1. V12 Victor Twelve
2. J533 J Five Thirty-Three
d. All other numbers shall be transmitted by pronouncing each
10 one zero
e. When a radio frequency contains a decimal point, the decimal
point is spoken as "POINT."
122.1 one two two point one
ICAO procedures require the decimal point be spoken as "DECIMAL." The FAA will
honor such usage by military aircraft and all other aircraft required to use ICAO
4-2-9. Altitudes and Flight Levels
a. Up to but not including 18,000 feet MSL, state the separate
digits of the thousands plus the hundreds if appropriate.
1. 12,000 one two thousand
2. 12,500 one two thousand five hundred
b. At and above 18,000 feet MSL (FL 180), state the words
"flight level" followed by the separate digits of the flight level.
1. 190 Flight Level One Niner Zero
2. 275 Flight Level Two Seven Five
The three digits of bearing, course, heading, or wind direction should
always be magnetic. The word "true" must be added when it applies.
1. (Magnetic course) 005 zero zero five
2. (True course) 050 zero five zero true
3. (Magnetic bearing) 360 three six zero
4. (Magnetic heading) 100 heading one zero
5. (Wind direction) 220 wind two two zero
The separate digits of the speed followed by the word "KNOTS."
Except, controllers may omit the word "KNOTS" when using speed adjustment
procedures; e.g., "REDUCE/INCREASE SPEED TO TWO FIVE ZERO."
(Speed) 250 two five zero knots
(Speed) 190 one niner zero knots
The separate digits of the Mach Number preceded by "Mach."
(Mach number) 1.5 Mach one point five
(Mach number) 0.64 Mach point six four
(Mach number) 0.7 Mach point seven
a. FAA uses Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) for all operations.
The word "local" or the time zone equivalent shall be used to denote local when
local time is given during radio and telephone communications. The term "Zulu"
may be used to denote UTC.
0920 UTC zero niner two zero,
zero one two zero pacific or local,
or one twenty AM
b. To convert from Standard Time to Coordinated Universal Time:
Standard Time to Coordinated Universal Time
Central Standard Time
Mountain Standard Time
Pacific Standard Time
Alaska Standard Time
Hawaii Standard Time
Add 5 hours
Add 6 hours
Add 7 hours
Add 8 hours
Add 9 hours
Add 10 hours
For daylight time, subtract 1 hour.
c. A reference may be made to local daylight or standard time
utilizing the 24-hour clock system. The hour is indicated by the first two figures and the
minutes by the last two figures.
0000 zero zero zero zero
0920 zero niner two zero
d. Time may be stated in minutes only (two figures) in
radiotelephone communications when no misunderstanding is likely to occur.
e. Current time in use at a station is stated in the nearest
quarter minute in order that pilots may use this information for time checks. Fractions of
a quarter minute less than 8 seconds are stated as the preceding quarter minute; fractions
of a quarter minute of 8 seconds or more are stated as the succeeding quarter minute.
0929:05 time, zero niner two niner
0929:10 time, zero niner two niner and
4-2-13. Communications with Tower when Aircraft
Transmitter or Receiver or Both are Inoperative
a. Arriving Aircraft.
1. Receiver inoperative.
(a) If you have reason to believe your receiver is inoperative,
remain outside or above the Class D surface area until the direction and flow of traffic
has been determined; then, advise the tower of your type aircraft, position, altitude,
intention to land, and request that you be controlled with light signals.
AIM, Traffic Control Light Signals, Paragraph 4-3-13.
(b) When you are approximately 3 to 5 miles from the airport,
advise the tower of your position and join the airport traffic pattern. From this point
on, watch the tower for light signals. Thereafter, if a complete pattern is made, transmit
your position downwind and/or turning base leg.
2. Transmitter inoperative. Remain outside or above the Class D
surface area until the direction and flow of traffic has been determined; then, join the
airport traffic pattern. Monitor the primary local control frequency as depicted on
Sectional Charts for landing or traffic information, and look for a light signal which may
be addressed to your aircraft. During hours of daylight, acknowledge tower transmissions
or light signals by rocking your wings. At night, acknowledge by blinking the landing or
navigation lights. To acknowledge tower transmissions during daylight hours, hovering
helicopters will turn in the direction of the controlling facility and flash the landing
light. While in flight, helicopters should show their acknowledgement of receiving a
transmission by making shallow banks in opposite directions. At night, helicopters will
acknowledge receipt of transmissions by flashing either the landing or the search light.
3. Transmitter and receiver inoperative. Remain outside or above
the Class D surface area until the direction and flow of traffic has been determined;
then, join the airport traffic pattern and maintain visual contact with the tower to
receive light signals. Acknowledge light signals as noted above.
b. Departing Aircraft. If you experience radio failure prior to
leaving the parking area, make every effort to have the equipment repaired. If you are
unable to have the malfunction repaired, call the tower by telephone and request
authorization to depart without two-way radio communications. If tower authorization is
granted, you will be given departure information and requested to monitor the tower
frequency or watch for light signals as appropriate. During daylight hours, acknowledge
tower transmissions or light signals by moving the ailerons or rudder. At night,
acknowledge by blinking the landing or navigation lights. If radio malfunction occurs
after departing the parking area, watch the tower for light signals or monitor tower
14 CFR Section 91.125 and 14 CFR Section 91.129.
4-2-14. Communications for VFR Flights
a. FSSs and Supplemental Weather Service
Locations (SWSLs) are allocated frequencies for
different functions; for example, 122.0 MHz is
assigned as the En Route Flight Advisory Service
frequency at selected FSSs. In addition, certain FSSs
provide Local Airport Advisory on 123.6 MHz or
other frequencies which can be found in the A/FD. If
you are in doubt as to what frequency to use,
122.2 MHz is assigned to the majority of FSSs as a
common en route simplex frequency.
In order to expedite communications, state the frequency being used and the aircraft
location during initial callup.
Dayton radio, this is November One Two Three Four Five on one two two point two, over
Springfield V-O-R, over.
b. Certain VOR voice channels are being utilized for recorded
broadcasts; i.e., ATIS, HIWAS, etc. These services and appropriate frequencies are listed
in the A/FD. On VFR flights, pilots are urged to monitor these frequencies. When in
contact with a control facility, notify the controller if you plan to leave the frequency
to monitor these broadcasts.